'We’re really in a bit of a time crunch': Infectious disease expert warns of COVID-19 variants in Canada
SASKATOON -- As more COVID-19 variants are found across Canada, infectious disease expert Jason Kindrachuk says now is the time for the Saskatchewan government to look at introducing further restrictions.
“I think we’re really in a bit of a time crunch if we want to get control,” he told CTV News.
Research suggests the variants of concern, first identified in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil, are more contagious than the original strain, but not more severe.
Some of these variants have now been found in Ontario, Quebec and Alberta, but not in Saskatchewan.
“We’re still at an early stage, at least in western Canada, in particular in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, where we haven’t recognized any cases of the variants here yet. So, what that means is we still have the ability to control introduction,” said Kindrachuk, who works as a virologist and Canadian Research Chair in emerging viruses at the University of Manitoba.
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister announced Tuesday that anyone entering the province from other parts of Canada will be required to self-isolate for 14 days.
As of right now, the Saskatchewan government doesn’t require people who enter the province to quarantine unless they recently travelled to Canada from another country, but recommends people limit inter-provincial travel as much as possible.
“Obviously having something that’s more transmissible is going to have a downstream effect on hospitalizations, on total number of cases, and then of course ultimately ICU admissions and fatal infections,” Kindrachuk said.
Meanwhile, some people in Saskatoon have mixed feelings about the variant and whether further steps need to be taken by the province.
“The variant is more intense than regular COVID, so we don’t want to see that here,” said Kayla Horan-Dmytruk, who was at the Saskatoon Airport on Wednesday, waiting to board a flight to Points North Landing in northern Saskatchewan.
Horan-Dmytruk added that she would like to see further restrictions in the province.
“I think that they should be more strict on the bars and the restaurants and places that have been flouting the restrictions, maybe stricter fines.”
Janelle Burron, a resident walking down Broadway Avenue on Wednesday, said she isn’t too worried about the COVID-19 variant and feels the current restrictions are enough.
“I’m not super concerned. I feel like at this point, people are kind of trying to just get back to a normal way of living,” Burron said.
The Ministry of Health said current COVID-19 testing in Saskatchewan can detect all COVID-19 variants.
Certain cases, including those connected to travel, are sent for viral sequencing which shows the genetic “finger-print” of the virus and identifies variants, like the one detected in the U.K., according to the Ministry of Health.
“We certainly know that people are doing increased sequencing and increased surveillance, looking for the variant. It looks like so far, we’ve done fairly well with dodging that bullet,” Kindrachuk said.
“But, we know that eventually those cases are going to show up, so I think restrictions as far as travel should be something we certainly consider.”
Both the Ministry of Health and Kindrachuk said the best way people can protect themselves and others right now is to continue following the measures set out at the beginning of the pandemic.
That includes practicing physical distancing, staying home as much as possible, self-isolating if experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, practicing proper hand and cough hygiene and wearing a mask.
“All these things matter and in fact, they’re much more important with these variants because of the increased transmissibility, so if we do all those things right, we do have an actual chance of being able to try to curb transmission,” Kindrachuk said.